Restaurant Reviews: Francine and The Mick Brasserie + Bar

Nikki BuchananOctober 22, 2020
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A pair of new restaurants puts our Francophile food critic on cloud neuf. 

Are French restaurants making a comeback? For a butter- and cream-loving fool like me, they never went out of fashion. Imagine my delight, then, to find two brand new Scottsdale restaurants offering distinct, stylishly altered takes on French food: Francine, housed in the luxury wing of Scottsdale Fashion Square, and The Mick Brasserie + Bar, a French-inspired, if not strictly French, neighborhood watering hole in North Scottsdale.

Owned by celebrity chef Laurent Halasz of Fig & Olive fame, Francine (4710 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-690-6180, francinerestaurant.com) is the more overtly French – and the more fully dialed in – of the two, an elegant, light-filled space specializing in the Mediterranean-influenced cooking of le midi (the South of France). French-trained executive chef Brian Archibald (formerly of The Boulders) heads up the kitchen, filling the menu with sunny weather classics such as salade Niçoise, ratatouille, bouillabaisse and olive oil-poached tuna as well as ingredients and preparations from Spain, Italy and other parts of France. There’s also pizza and a burger in deference to shoppers who may never dive more deeply into French food than fries.

Salade Niçoise; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer
Salade Niçoise; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer

I could live on the complimentary fougasse alone – crispy, focaccia-like flatbread served with salted, herbed olive oil – but the hors d’oeuvres are pretty fun. There’s grilled octopus, charred and smoky, set in a creamy swirl of faintly spicy Spanish romesco, its heat echoed by a wedge of chile-laced chorizo verde. Meanwhile, crispy calamari and zucchini, spritzed with grilled lemon and dunked in velvety aioli, make perfect snacking – both in le midi and le AZ.

One section of the menu is devoted to carpaccio and tartare, and I can’t wait to explore it in painstaking detail. But I’m skeptical anything will be as stellar as the steak tartare I ordered from it – raw, chopped steak, formed in a thick pattycake with lemon aioli and shallots, smoothed with mustard seeds and capped with a brilliantly yellow egg yolk. The whole chunky, creamy and intensely meaty concoction is meant to be smeared over olive oil-brushed bread that’s been blackened on the grill. Insanely good.

steak tartare at Francine; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer
steak tartare at Francine; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer

Salade Niçoise is so often abused (canned tuna, canned green beans) that I seldom order it, but at Francine, it’s just right – lightly seared slips of rosy-hued ahi assembled with still-crisp green beans, potato, tomato, hard-cooked egg and a bit of lettuce, anointed in citrusy dressing. Meanwhile, bone marrow pasta (subtitled cacio e pepe, aka “cheese and pepper”) isn’t the classic mac-and-cheese-like Italian dish I expected, but rather a high-minded spin on the original, enriched with fatty bone marrow. It’s peppery and almost brothy. I like it, but the cheese is nearly indiscernible, so it needs a less misleading name.

A touch of honey lends sticky sweetness to duck à la Provençale, nested in a drift of olive oil mashed potatoes and sided by roasted plums and parsnips, which offer up their own sweetness. Equally good and far more savory: crisp-skinned Mediterranean branzino, drizzled with lemony sauce vierge (salsa meets vinaigrette) and accompanied by earthy panisse, a fried, baton-shaped chickpea flour cake that I adore.

Warm butternut squash tartine; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer
Warm butternut squash tartine; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer

Francine isn’t perfect. Service can be crazy-slow in these early days, but I’ve had enough good-to-great things to be smitten with the vibrant food of Halasz’s homeland. By comparison, The Mick Brasserie + Bar (9719 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-210-5500, themickaz.com) seems less glitzy and ambitious, more casual and accessible, a midcentury modern neighborhood hangout that doesn’t set a sartorial standard much higher than shorts and flip-flops. And that’s just fine for the McCormick Ranchers who show up for a craft beer, a glass or bottle of wine (chosen from a lengthy list) and a bite of something that might skew French, Spanish, Mexican or Middle Eastern.

It’s possible to graze on inexpensive nibbles like grilled Noble sourdough, served with flavored whipped butter, flaky sea salt and radish (très French!); a rather tortured pork carnitas tostada, blended with sweet corn velouté, white bean purée, avocado crema, feta, pickled onion and salsa; or a banh mi slider, heaped with char siu glazed pork belly and kimchi slaw, its brioche bun given a slather of Sriracha mayo.

Chicken liver mousse, topped with a layer of melted chicken fat, is slightly grainy but good on grilled sourdough, accompanied by pickled red onion, capers and tiny Champagne grapes. A flaky Moroccan pastilla (think phyllo-wrapped meat pie) stuffed with duck confit, is pretty and fun with charred onion agrodolce and pickled pineapple for zingy accent. I’d skip the $19 cheese board, which contains so little cheese my companion and I worry there’s been some menu foul-up.

At this point, The Mick’s best dishes are warm butternut squash tartine on Noble Bread, a luscious combo of lightly pickled shaves of squash, caramelized walnuts and faintly sweet Gorgonzola Dolce; and vegetarian tarte flambée, the thin, pizza-like flatbread of Alsace, topped with Gruyère, arugula, grape tomatoes, pickled red onion and truffle oil. There’s also a version with house-cured salmon, capers, dill, sour cream and lemon zest that’s outstanding.

The Mick may not be 100 percent French, but it’s French enough to be 100 percent fun.

The Mick Highlights: Tarte flambée with house-cured salmon ($16); vegetarian tarte flambée ($14); butternut squash tartine ($12); pork belly banh mi slider ($7)

Francine Highlights: Grilled octopus with romesco and chorizo verde ($18); salade Niçoise ($18); steak tartare ($19); duck à la Provençale ($36)

Francine isn’t perfect. Service can be crazy-slow in these early days, but I’ve had enough good-to-great things to be smitten with the vibrant food of Halasz’s homeland. By comparison, The Mick Brasserie + Bar (9719 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-210-5500, themickaz.com) seems less glitzy and ambitious, more casual and accessible, a midcentury modern neighborhood hangout that doesn’t set a sartorial standard much higher than shorts and flip-flops. And that’s just fine for the McCormick Ranchers who show up for a craft beer, a glass or bottle of wine (chosen from a lengthy list) and a bite of something that might skew French, Spanish, Mexican or Middle Eastern.

It’s possible to graze on inexpensive nibbles like grilled Noble sourdough, served with flavored whipped butter, flaky sea salt and radish (très French!); a rather tortured pork carnitas tostada, blended with sweet corn velouté, white bean purée, avocado crema, feta, pickled onion and salsa; or a banh mi slider, heaped with char siu glazed pork belly and kimchi slaw, its brioche bun given a slather of Sriracha mayo.

Pavlova dessert; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer
Pavlova dessert; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer
dining room at The Mick Brasserie + Bar; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer
dining room at The Mick Brasserie + Bar; Photography by Kyle Ledeboer

Chicken liver mousse, topped with a layer of melted chicken fat, is slightly grainy but good on grilled sourdough, accompanied by pickled red onion, capers and tiny Champagne grapes. A flaky Moroccan pastilla (think phyllo-wrapped meat pie) stuffed with duck confit, is pretty and fun with charred onion agrodolce and pickled pineapple for zingy accent. I’d skip the $19 cheese board, which contains so little cheese my companion and I worry there’s been some menu foul-up.

At this point, The Mick’s best dishes are warm butternut squash tartine on Noble Bread, a luscious combo of lightly pickled shaves of squash, caramelized walnuts and faintly sweet Gorgonzola Dolce; and vegetarian tarte flambée, the thin, pizza-like flatbread of Alsace, topped with Gruyère, arugula, grape tomatoes, pickled red onion and truffle oil. There’s also a version with house-cured salmon, capers, dill, sour cream and lemon zest that’s outstanding.

The Mick may not be 100 percent French, but it’s French enough to be 100 percent fun.

The Mick Highlights: Tarte flambée with house-cured salmon ($16); vegetarian tarte flambée ($14); butternut squash tartine ($12); pork belly banh mi slider ($7)

Francine Highlights: Grilled octopus with romesco and chorizo verde ($18); salade Niçoise ($18); steak tartare ($19); duck à la Provençale ($36)

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